Greece: New Leaders Are More Defiant

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Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has spelled out the negotiating strategy of the Syriza government with crystal clarity as he faces one of his toughest meetings yet, as he seeks to convince his counterparts in the Eurozone that his country deserves more time and leeway on debt repayments, economic overhauls, and budget cuts. Speaking to the Italian TV station RAI, Varoufakis made it seem like the new government — which took office not too long ago — won’t exactly be following orders and leaving the Eurozone.

“Exit from the euro does not even enter into our plans, quite simply because the euro is fragile. It is like a house of cards. If you pull away the Greek card, they all come down. Do we really want Europe to break apart? Anybody who is tempted to think it possible to amputate Greece strategically from Europe should be careful. It is very dangerous. Who would be hit after us? Portugal? What would happen to Italy when it discovers that it is impossible to stay within the austerity straight-jacket?

There are Italian officials – I won’t say from which institution — who have approached me to say they support us, but they can’t say the truth because Italy is at risk of bankruptcy and they fear the consequence from Germany. A cloud of fear has been hanging over Europe over recent years. We are becoming worse than the Soviet Union.”

Since the new government in Athens took office two weeks ago, Varoufakis and other officials from his far-left Syriza party have been touring European capitals to sell their government’s plans, which include abandoning Greece’s existing €240 billion bailout ($272 billion) from the currency union and the International Monetary Fund.

Officials have said that European Union leaders won’t negotiate with Greece at a summit in Brussels on Thursday, and will leave it to their finance ministers, who meet again next Monday, to sort out the standoff. Varoufakis has said that the government wants to secure a new rescue deal with the eurozone by Sept. 1, including cuts and overhaul measures that it believes will be less harmful to the Greek economy.

His cool nerve has caught Brussels, Frankfurt, Berlin, and the markets off guard. They assumed that this 40-year neophyte would back away from exorbitant demands in his landmark policy speech to the Greek parliament on Sunday night. Instead, what they heard could be described as a declaration of war.

He vowed to implement every measure in Syriza’s pre-electoral Thessaloniki Program “in their entirety” with no ifs and buts. This even includes a legal demand for €11bn of war reparations from Germany, a full 71 years after the last Wehrmacht soldier left Greek soil.

[Image via Matt Cardy/Getty Images]